If your days are spent sending manual emails to inquiring families – or spent wanting to pull your hair out because your student information system’s “email platform” is taking your time away from meaningful work – maybe it's time to consider introducing a new email marketing platform to your school’s marketing strategy.
Email is one of the most powerful tools a private school marketing team has at their disposal. Here are a few reasons why we love it:
It allows for connection with both current families and potential parents
It leverages data and fulfills a number of steps along the customer journey for potential applicants
It’s relatively inexpensive once it’s set up
It allows for both personalization and automation
It can connect with other platforms in your technology stack
Many independent school marketing teams have inherited older systems that lack some of the bells, whistles, and efficiencies of newer platforms – but making a change to a new email marketing platform is a major investment. There are many things to consider, especially because it’s a decision that likely involves and impacts more than just your marketing department (think: IT, admissions, and development).
Once the decision to switch or upgrade has been made, the search for a new email marketing platform can be a new challenge. The market is flooded with options – and while most can handle the basics of what you need, they each come with strengths, weaknesses, and superpowers that can be tough to pull out and compare.
To help guide your email marketing platform evaluation journey, here are 10 questions to ask when selecting a new email platform to help with your digital marketing for independent schools:
1. How does it connect with other platforms in your technology stack?
Does the new email system work with your existing CRM database? How about your website? If you use online payment systems for incidental fees, fundraisers and event tickets, can it send and receive confirmations and responses?
If your institution uses a complete Education Management System to digitally manage your website, enrollment, academic records and student information, it’s essential to ensure your new email marketing platform will seamlessly integrate with your existing infrastructure. (Hubspot, MailChimp, and Finalsite are three robust options our clients often use.)
2. What does it offer for automation and workflows?
Automated workflows are the key to fast, efficient communication. Does the new email platform provide templates to automate responses and trigger step-by-step communication plans to reply to potential applicants and keep them engaged?
Especially for new inquiries, it’s essential to reply quickly with a welcome email thanking them for reaching out – and a regular drip campaign to keep them engaged. Some programs can even resend an email to people who didn’t open it (perhaps with a different subject line).
What else can you automate? Open house reminders (and either ‘thank you’ or ‘missed you’ messages sent promptly the next day). Updates about key admissions deadlines. You can even consider sending monthly newsletters and greetings triggered by birthdays, anniversaries, or holidays. After all, it takes multiple touchpoints and micro-conversions (like clicking a link) to drive macro-conversions (like applying for your school).
We sometimes hear that school marketers are hesitant to ‘over-automate’ because it feels less personal – but we’re here to tell you that you can have both! More on that next.
3. What are its capabilities for setting up or integrating trackable forms?
Gathering information about your prospective family’scustomers’ journey through your website and contact points is an important step to understand their response patterns and strategically engage them throughout the conversion cycle. Most schools leverage forms on their website to gather information that triggers an email workflow. Some email platforms offer their own forms, or your forms could be created through many different platforms dedicated to this type of marketing activity. Either way, it’s important to make sure your forms can easily ‘talk’ and share information with your email marketing platform to ensure a smooth flow of communication.
4. What’s the potential for personalization?
There are a few ways to think about personalization. The first is to personalize your email marketing to fit your school’s brand – and to fit your audience as well. Can the platform you’re evaluating offer truly personalized design and customize color schemes and templates and upload your school crest, logo, and images to present a uniform brand (pun intended)? Are the templates optimized for mobile viewing? According to the Digital Marketing Institute, more than 43% of people check their email on their smartphone every single day… and if they can’t easily read your message, you’ve essentially lost them.
The next ‘level’ of personalization involves dynamic content and features. Beyond being able to personalize the recipient’s name (which is great!), does the platform allow you to swap in (or out) messaging that will appeal to families with children who are three or thirteen, or to add info about the programs they’ve expressed an interest in? What about separating messages for parents who’ve applied vs those who haven’t yet? What about sending messages on the day of the week – and at the time of day – when an individual parent is most likely to open it? Almost anything is possible.
On the more technical side, some of the more advanced platforms offer multivariate or A/B testing to compare the response rate for emails with different characteristics (think: subject lines, content blocks, images, calls to action and more). These platforms can quickly gauge the reaction of a segment of your audience and will automatically send the best-performing option to the rest of your email list (which is especially important to support private school fundraising development plans). They can also use predictive segmentation to help classify your audiences so they receive the most appropriate communication campaigns.
5. What are its reporting capabilities?
As a marketer, you need to be able to evaluate effectiveness and measure the ROI of your campaigns. Whether on its own or using GA4 (we’ll talk about that next), your system should be able to report on the following key metrics:
Bounce rate for undelivered emails
Number of unsubscribes
Click throughs (both hard data and heat mapping)
Conversion rates for specific tasks or goals
A view of subscriber behavior at various stages of each workflow
TIP: Data is awesome. But it should be easy to view and understand – and easy to use. If it's a hassle to analyze effectiveness, you’ll likely avoid doing it, and you’ll be missing out on fantastic opportunities to optimize your email marketing program.
6. How does it integrate with Google Analytics?
Your email marketing program relies on great data to ensure it’s working to its best potential. The platform you choose should allow you to connect with Google Analytics – a tool most marketers use – to optimize the success of your email marketing and better understand and respond to your readers’ actions.
GA can help you compile analytics for schools by following your audience’s journey from your email through your website and collecting real-time data with visual representations that are easy to understand.
If you’re unsure how to figure out if a platform integrates well with Google Analytics or the new GA4, reach out to an expert (like Metric!). We’d be happy to help.
TIP: Take a look at our recent post about Getting an A+ in Google Marketing and download our guide for utilizing GA4 for private and independent schools.
7. What will it cost?
In addition to startup costs to purchase the software, some platforms have ongoing fees for licenses and multiple users. Costs may also depend on the volume of emails you send and the advanced capabilities of the program. Are there limits on the number of contacts or messages that can be sent? Charges for onboarding and technical support? Other factors to consider are the availability and length of free trials, the option for pay-per-use, monthly or annual contracts, and extra costs for integrations with other systems.
Though costs aren’t fun to think about, keep in mind that automating your email work will save you and your team time in the long run – and as the saying goes, time is money!
8. Is it easy to use?
You know your team best, and each team will define ‘easy’ differently depending on your in-house skillsets, available resources, the time you have to spend on email, and what you need in order to succeed. Now is the time to be real about what’s realistic – and what features will serve you well in an email platform.
These days, most email marketing platforms are both sophisticated and easy-to-use. Instead of relying on expert-level HTML coding, many platforms use drag-and-drop technology that lets you quickly design professional looking communications and set up forms and automations that adapt to both desktop and mobile devices. You should also check if the system allows you to send attachments like PDFs and secure reports to parents.
9. Is it scalable?
Now is the time for foresight. Is this the right platform if your contacts triple over the next two years? What if you add international recruitment? What if you want to add SMS text messaging into your email workflows as a new way to reach busy parents with time-sensitive information? Look at your school’s strategic plan and private school trends, anticipate your department growth, and evaluate if this email platform will still be a good fit for you a few years down the line.
10. Is it compliant?
Remember to abide by data and privacy legislation for every jurisdiction where you market. At a minimum, your email marketing system must allow for subscribers to opt-in at different levels, easily unsubscribe, track proof of opt-in, and delete customers who request it.
We’re definitely not lawyers, so we recommend you consult your school’s legal counsel for guidance and stay up to date with legislation changes in your markets.
We’d love to help you get started.
At Metric Marketing, we develop measurable and practical strategies to help private and independent schools like yours to make the most of your marketing efforts. We'd love to discuss your private school's marketing requirements with you. Contact us today to speak with our marketing professionals or sign up to receive more marketing tips in your inbox.